Hamline professor releases new book on Jewish education

Assistant religion professor Earl Schwartz’ new ethnographic book about Jewish education.


Assistant Religion Professor Earl Schwartz recently published a book, “The Arc of the Covenant: Jewish Educational Success on the Upper Mississippi.”

Sol Doyscher, A&E Writer

Assistant religion professor Earl Schwartz has taken his passion for education in the Jewish community and externalized it into his new book, The Arc of the Covenant: Jewish Educational Success on the Upper Mississippi. 

Schwartz’ book chronicles the socio-cultural and political impacts of Jewish education, along with the factors that created its foundation. The focus is primarily on the latter half of the twentieth century but brings to light many events that affect today’s Jewish communities as well.

“I grew up in North Minneapolis, and my earliest experiences with Jewish life, as a young Jew in North Minneapolis, were through Jewish institutions. First on the north side and then more broadly in Minneapolis,” Schwartz said.

When asked about his journey to Hamline, Schwartz mentioned his educational background and travels up and down the Mississippi. 

“In 1976, after I had graduated from the University of Minnesota with a BA in Jewish Studies, I went looking for a job and I was hired by a St. Paul Jewish community school, the Tomatora of St. Paul, and as I said in the opening of the book, ‘I crossed the Mississippi, and St. Paul won my heart,’” Schwartz said. “So, my experience is on both sides of the Mississippi, but in the last 40 years, much more intensely focused on the Jewish education of St. Paul. And I came to Hamline in the early 1990s to teach what I had been teaching in the Jewish community for the previous 20 years.”

Schwartz talked about the “unlikely success” of Jewish education in the St. Paul area and how a once overlooked community became an educational powerhouse.  

“As the book explains, the Midwest generally, and Minnesota particularly, was well known in Jewish educational circles from the 1930s to the 1980s as improbably successful in Jewish education,” Schwartz said. 

The presence of Hebrew language instruction and other areas of Jewish education in the Midwest was unusual since most other prominent Jewish communities were only on the coasts. 

“The book is about explaining those improbabilities; why is it that it turned out that places like St. Paul, Minnesota for a particular time period were exceptionally successful settings for Jewish education?” Schwartz said. “Why did things go right in St. Paul when it seemed like flyover territory to much more prominent Jewish educators?” 

Schwartz provided background on the history of Jewish education, and how it ties into world history as a whole. 

“If you lived in the early twentieth century, you had this awful, catastrophic destruction of Jewish life under the Nazis followed immediately by this rebirth of Jewish life through the establishment of the state of Israel,” Schwartz said. “Then an attempt to join this rebirth through Jewish education which had the challenge in the twentieth century of accessing traditional literature and asking how they recover the historical language.”

The connection between language and Jewish education presents challenges to Jewish communities that are different from traditional Catholic or Methodist education. 

“It would be quite unusual for a Catholic or Methodist school to say ‘if we don’t study scriptures in their unusual language, then we are missing out on something,’” Schwartz said.

The Arc of the Covenant: Jewish Educational Success on the Upper Mississippi was published in September and its release has since been celebrated in the Hamline community